Sexism in FairyLand: Disney’s Pixie Hollow Won’t Let Girls Wear Pants

by cv harquail on June 11, 2010

Mom, Disney is a sexist company, isn’t it.

Out of the mouths of babes, and 9 year olds, come important truths. But I like to wait it out, rather than presume, so I reply with:

Why do you say that, honey?

On Pixie Hollow I want to buy pants for my fairies. I have the credits, but Pixie Hollow won’t let fairies wear pants.

But they have pants for sale?

Only to the Sparrow Men. You can buy pants for your boy fairies but not for your fairies.  Even if you have the money.

201006110824.jpgCan the boys buy skirts?

No. So it’s even more sexist, isn’t it!

Momentarily, I congratulate my self that my own 4th grader is developing a discrimination detector.

Then, I come over to the computer to make sure she hasn’t missed something in the game. Maybe she’s just doing something wrong in the game that is preventing her from buying pants for her fairy.

Together, we go through the process — my daughter earned the game points, she went to the game store, and she can’t buy pants for her pixies.

Thanks for the friendly “reminder” of what girls can’t do, Pixie Hollow.

As designed, the game only lets players dress their fairies in dresses wings, shoes, and bows, while the Sparrow Men can have only pants, shirts, and wings.

(The name ‘Sparrow Men” comes from the book Peter Pan. Why they are not sparrowboys, or simply fairoes instead of fairies, I don’t know.)

This is what we parents call a “learning opportunity”.

Is Pixie Hollow’s “No Pants for Girls” Rule intentional sexism?

Pixie Hollow’s dress code  may well be “benevolent sexism” or “enlightened sexism”. It may even be unintentional sexism, if  the whole constraint is a technological oversight. Maybe the Sparrow Men module was developed as an add-on and they didn’t think to integrate all the pieces?

The cause of the pants prohibition for fairies may be rather benign. It’s not like we’re imagining some malevolent, Taliban-inspired product manager decreeing that girls fairies may not wear pants because it isn’t “appropriate” in Pixie Hollow. Maybe it never occurred to them that fairies might want to wear pants.

However, it doesn’t matter whether someone was overtly, consciously sexist or not. The game is sexist. It imposes its own gendered norms for what is kind of pixie appearance is appropriate. For no reason at all.

As Joe Gerstandt explains, it’s the outcome that counts. If an outcome creates a sexist or racist experience, even if not consciously intended by the creators, it is still sexist, and still needs to be changed.

My daughter and I have talked about the Fairy Dress Code issue at length now. She’s done a little research, and determined that there’s just no reason why girl fairies can’t wear pants. Although most of the books about fairies depict the fairies (mostly all female) in dresses, skirts, or flower petals (which are themselves skirt-like), there is no fairy queen or kind who has decreed that girl fairies can’t wear pants.

So there’s something wrong in the real world.

201006110742.jpg

Do Pixie Dress Codes really matter?

You may think it’s silly to be concerned that in an online game, the girl fictional creatures are unable to do something so simple as wear pants, while the boy fictional creatures can. But it’s not that silly.

First, in the ‘up close an personal’ perspective, my kid has earned the points, they are her fairies, why can’t she dress them as she pleases?

Second, I don’t want my kid to have to confront sexism in her toys. Her dad and I have gone to a lot of trouble to raise her to understand that her sex, her gender performance, her race, and her other ‘categorizes’ should never be barriers to what she wants to do or who she wants to be.

Sexist Dress Codes: Real manifestations of real obstacles

Girls especially, but sometimes boys too, begin to notice that girls and boys are treated differently. They know this in their hearts, and they feel it in their experience, but they often don’t “see” gendering or discrimination in material and concrete ways that they can easily grok.

My daughters still find it hard to believe that there was no girls’ soccer team when I was in high school, that it was only in 1973 that women were ‘allowed’ to keep their names when they got married, and that I keep getting mail addressed to Mr. & Mrs. DearHusband, rather than Dr. Harquail and Mr. DearHusband. And those are only the visible, superficial manifestations… don’t even get me started on the number of girls in my 6th grader’s accelerated math class.

Yes, we know that Pixie Hollow is a completely sexist universe.

The entire Pixie Hollow game is sexist, as is the book it was based on and the Disney franchise that it extends. Just check out the list, here, of fun things you can do in Pixie Hollow.

[Note: I’m trying to balance out my kid’s experience by having her play Call of Duty 2 with her dad.  Just kidding. Actually, I take solace in the Star Wars fantasy play where they all fight over who gets the red light saber and thus gets to be the Jedi “Master”.]

In the grand scheme of sexism, the issue of pants being forbidden for fairies is a really small one. But on Pixie Hollow, it’s a big deal. An important element of the game revolves around “adorning” your pixie avatar. So why are choices for that adornment limited along gender lines?

June 11th is Wear The Pants Day

Today, of all days, this dress code at Pixie Hollow is annoying my daughter.

Today is Wear The Pants Day, sponsored by my daughter’s favorite magazine, New Moon Girls. 201006110833.jpg

New Moon Girls, the feisty and fun feminist magazine and online community made by and for girls, wants females to observe “Wear The Pants Day” this Friday (June 11th) because girls and women around the world are still forbidden or discouraged from wearing pants. Yes, it is 2010, and yet:

Girls and women are beaten, arrested and worse for wearing pants, even loose pants covered by skirts. Just last week, Indonesian women wearing jeans had their pants confiscated and were ordered to don long skirts. Schoolgirls in Sudan were flogged last fall for wearing pants, and while international outrage helped keep flogging at bay for Sudanese journalist Lubna Hussein, she must pay a fee for the crime of wearing pants. Last September, some 20 Ugandan women wearing pants were stripped and left to walk home in underwear.

Right here in the US, plenty of anti-pants expectations remain. Just two years ago, the Wall Street Journal reported on persistent bias against pants-wearing women in many white-collar professions such as law and finance, and polled readers about whether pants or skirts were more appropriate for women. Readers approved pants, but only by a narrow margin. Female college grads are still warned to stick to skirts to grease the skids to the top in many professions. And girls and women in conservative religious communities face formal and informal proscriptions against pants-wearing.

Just when you think that wearing pants or not is trivial, you remember it isn’t trivial.

Changing the Dress Code at Pixie Hollow

We are working on our letter to the folks at Pixie Hollow. We’ve heard that Sparrow Men were added to Pixie Hollow because some boys and girls wrote to Disney and asked that boys be explicitly included in Pixie Hollow.  While the explicit inclusion of male characters fixed the previous workaround (where players created androgynous-looking avatars and gave them ambiguous names so that the characters could be boy fairies), we’d like Disney to take their inclusion/ exclusion efforts a little further.

While we work on changing Disney’s online world, my girl is making a statement in the real world. Today, on Wear the Pants day, she’s going to school in …. a skirt.

She’s been convinced, by Svea’s letter on the New Moon Girls site, that by wearing a skirt she can make a point and learn something new. As Svea writes:

I made the decision to wear a skirt on June 11.I am going to wear a skirt for two reasons. First, to celebrate my freedom of being able to wear skirts, and second to imagine what it would be like if I had to wear a skirt every single day. Also, I wear pants every single day, so for me, having a wear the pants day would have virtually no symbolic meaning. It would be like having brush your teeth day or eat dinner day.

Dear Disney,

We’d like to be able to dress our pixies however we chose, thank you very much. And, we’d like to be able to wear what we want, regardless of someone else’s expectations of what’s gender appropriate.

That freedom should exist for fairies and sparrowguys in Pixie Hollow, and girls and boys everywhere in the world.

We’re not going to be able to change all the sexism in the game, or all the sexism in the world, but we’ll do our best to make a difference where we can.201006110747.jpg

 

See also:
Joe Gerstandt, on Our Time To Act: Disentangling Intentions from Outcomes, and

This article, which takes the discussion of sexism on Pixie Hollow pretty far, but leaves about 10% of the work for you to continue on your own: Tinker … bill? Disney fairies get a sex change: At long last, boys come to Pixie Hollow — and that’s a win for kids of both genders, by Mary Elizabeth Williams, on Slate’s Broadsheet

{ 30 comments }

fran melmed June 11, 2010 at 10:04 am

bravo for your daughter, and for you, CV.

just wednesday night, i had a similar experience with my 9 year old. she looked up at me while reading a book about naming a cat, pointed to a boy’s name the family had discarded (the cat being a female), and said, “that’s sexist.” she felt the cat should be able to have any name that cat and her family liked.

f

cv harquail June 11, 2010 at 2:30 pm

We just need to keep supporting those girls, every time it “clicks”. I know, too, that my girls keep me more honest about my own biases & behavior too. cv

Michele June 11, 2010 at 12:39 pm

Last year at legoland my then-4-year old daughter was told by park security that she HAD to wear a top in the swimming/water area, while the boys did not have to. Her father was really happy that I wasn’t around since, after giving security boy an earful probably would have removed my top and encouraged ALL the other people in the area to remove theirs. F-that shit!

My daughter recently asked if boys could wear dresses and her father immediately said, “Boys don’t wear dresses.” And I retorted that some boys do wear dresses. Not many that we knew of, but it wasn’t some rule, more of an expectation which really isn’t right or fair. I went on to remind her that you don’t need a vagina to wear a dress. That’s been my rationale with her when she brings up the girls/boys can/cannot issues- if it REQUIRES a vagina to do it, then only girls can do it and if it REQUIRES a penis to do it then only boys can do it. Perhaps we can have the gaming industry apply this same, if-a-5-year-old-gets-it-then-it-must-be-very-simple logic to their decision-making… Yeah, right!

cv harquail June 11, 2010 at 2:33 pm

Michele, your story reminds me of that Dar Williams song, “When I was a boy”, about all the things that she could do when she was little that are off limits now. Especially when we ask “why is this important to you?” “why is a 4 year old’s chest important here?” you really get at the underlying idiocy. cv

Nancy Gruver June 11, 2010 at 1:20 pm

Great post! We’ll direct our FB fans here – it would be wonderful for your daughter to share her Pixie Hollow action on newmoon.com – I bet other NMG members will join it. You both inspire us.

cv harquail June 11, 2010 at 2:35 pm

Nancy,
I’m so glad that New Moon Magazine is out there (and so bummed that when you google New Moon, you get… well, you know). Please let me know if there are other posts about Wear The Pants day that I can direct people to. cv

Anne Perschel June 17, 2010 at 9:05 pm

Ahh CV – we are singing the same tune. The other day we (hubby and me) received a letter for Doctors without Borders (but clearly with gender boundaries) addressed to Dr. and Mrs. Perschel. Guess what doc w/out borders? I may not always wear pants, but I am the doctor in the family.

Thanks for this and your many thoughtful posts.

well1234 June 18, 2010 at 6:46 pm

Thats why the most high have to destroy this wicked place

mackenzie August 13, 2010 at 4:08 pm

that is the boy store!!!! they have girl pants at… well i forget, but still a fariy can too wear pants!

FaeDreamer August 16, 2010 at 5:22 pm

I’m sorry, but I think this article is ridiculous. It’s just a bunch of modern feminist mumbo jumbo. Pixie hollow didn’t create fairies in skirts to oppress women, and there are jeans available by the way, starting fairies just have limited choices. Besides it’s not Disney’s job to teach children what they can and cannot do in life, that’s the parent’s job, life isn’t always going to give you all the choices you want and kids need to know that. In this instance the choice is wear what is available, write to Disney and suggest they give pants as an option or find another game. It is just a game after all. If you don’t like it you don’t have to let your kid play it, but don’t sit around bashing it just because it’s not to your taste.

Jeane Carol Schmidtpeter August 26, 2010 at 8:12 am

Just for some peoples information:
Jeans can be bought by fairies.
The jeans can also be dyed different colours.
Don’t worry about the clothes too much.
Check out the chat exchanges going on.
That is what I do for my grandchildren.
Then everything is fine.

Robert October 17, 2010 at 6:01 am

I agree with you that people use gender to promote sexism. I took my nephew with me to a yard sale. While there he spotted a dress with Pooh on it. He ask
the lady if he could buy it. She ask him if it was for his sister. He said “No, its for me” She told him it was only for a little girl. He turned and looked at me and said ” why its only clothes.” I agreed so I bought it. When we got back to his home we went in and he went to his room and changed into it. He came back
carrying his Pooh Bear and was quite happy. He went outside and played the rest of the day, none of the other kids said anything to him.
The question is Are we the adults pushing sexist things towards our children?

susan October 24, 2010 at 8:16 pm

Excuse me anyone that wants to bash the Pixie Hollow Fairies site and Disney and would have old Walt dug up and demand and good reason for your daughter not being able to wear pants in Pixie Hollow.

First off your daughter can wear pants in Pixie Hollow. In fact there was a whole line of jeans that could be dyed just for that reason that were brought out. I would think if she played the game enough she would know this, even once a week would be fine because the pants were there all summer long!

Frankly what bothers me more is that you are more concerned if your daughter’s fairy can wear pants than that she is interacting with sparrowmen at her age without you looking over her shoulder.

One of the most famous fairies is Vidia and she wears pants. While Fairy Gary wears a kilt. So in all fairness the rest of us really don’t see what the big deal is?

If you really want to be fair then tell me if you would object to boys wearing skirts to school with your daughter?

geez woman get a life and grip on the situation. New fairies have are limited to what they can wear, if you don’t like the site then don’t play it. We have a very well known fairy that is a guy but he was forced to dress as a girl for the longeset. His wife and kids play too, the whole family. Where else can you find something like that on the internet ? Family time!

I hardly think Pixie Hollow is sexist because if anything it encourages bravery, courage, honesty, and responsibility for your own actions.

And besides that what is so wrong with a female dressing like a female? this country went down the tubes after all that “i can do what a man can do” stuff started anyway. You should have already known this by watching what your child was doing on the internet. 4th graders should always have someone over their shoulder when they are on it!

Chris November 5, 2010 at 2:03 pm

Lady you’re crazy! If women still acted like women and made themselves the heart of the home and the loving mother they should be and quit trying to be men then we wouldn’t have half the problems we have in society today. Men and women are different. There should be gender lines because that is NORMAL. Blurring gender lines causes confusion and results in the crap you see today; all this homosexuality and gender neutral garbage. If you don’t like something then don’t watch it/use it. Find something else. Stop trying to push your craziness on others. J.M.J.

[ This comment is the winner of this week’s “In the Dark Ages” award. 5 Nov 2010. ]

abby November 11, 2010 at 10:11 pm

Well I agree with the facts, women in the real world should be allowed to wear pants. But on Pixie Hollow, it’s NO big deal. I guess the fairies should be able to wear pants, but a while ago boys couldn’t even MAKE a Pixie Hollow account, pants didn’t come along until boys did. But I don’t see what the big deal is anyways. In the books and movies, none of the female fairies really wear pants, except Lily, the garden fairy, does sometimes. But, and I know I’m saying this for the third time, it’s NOT A BIG DEAL. I think you kind of wasted your time typing up all of that and saying how the game is ‘sexist’ just because they don’t let females wear pants. If she wants pants so bad, make a male fairy account.

Susan December 15, 2010 at 12:52 pm

Oh my gosh!!! I was surfing for info on a badge me and my daughter still need to earn in Pixie Hollow and came across this. How utterly insane. I NEVER take the time to respond to blogs etc. but this was so far off I had to say something. You encouraged your 4th grade daughter to make a huge deal out of an innocent fairy game that DOES offer pants as a clothing option. You women are NUTS!!! And to the woman who got offended that her daughter was told to leave her top on at the water park are you bleeping kidding me?! Men and women, thank God, have different parts and to pretend we don’t is downright ignorant. You want your daughter to go around in front of possible pedophiles to prove an assinine point?! Its a GAME people!!! Put your energy into something that matters!! Encourage your daughters to donate their unused toys, to make cards for the soldiers, to help out at a nursing home etc. Don’t you think your time and energy and the lessons taught to your children would be so much more valuable!!

doris February 4, 2011 at 5:08 pm

i wont pants its so not fair i like pants am 9 and interd the pixie hollow when i was 4 am 10 in june 2 so if you read this e mail me s-lainez@hotmail.com

Lilly March 15, 2011 at 11:08 pm

lol This article is beyond stupid. It’s just a kids website, relax. Some pants are made for boys, which are the type of pants they apparently sell in this game. And boys shouldn’t wear skirts, that’s just sick.

I hate it when people assume something is sexist when it obviously isn’t, you’re just making a big deal out of nothing.

Hope August 7, 2011 at 5:27 pm

I’m a 15 year old girl, and I would just like to point out that in fact Pixie Hollow does in fact sell pants for girls, but the clothes put out into the online stores are seasonal. Do you wear pants in summer? Not unless you want a heat stroke. All you have to do is wait for when pants are in season, like Fall and Winter, and there will be more pants there.

cv harquail August 9, 2011 at 10:05 am

Hi Hope- thanks for commenting! Things have changed in Pixie Hollow since I wrote that post a while back, and now pants *are* available for girls faeries to buy.

Chestnut (my pixie) November 25, 2011 at 1:15 pm

Well, I’m not sure when this happened but, the girls can now wear pants. Not all pants though. Only pants that are made for the girls. Right now there are pants in the Boho Chic collection in Summit Styles. And for all new fairys, for whatever talent you are, there are calsual pants in what color talent you are (in my case is was orange shades because i am an animal fairy). You can dye these clothes to whatever color you want by going to any of the dye shops and dying clothes.

RD December 9, 2011 at 6:09 pm

So why stop here? why not make it possible to have transgendered Fairies?? After all if your trying to shatter all gender norms this would be the natural culmination , or do you think choosing a fashion statement makes a more compelling point?

Twilight December 21, 2011 at 12:10 am

They were and always have sold pants and like hope said it Depends on the season it is

Margarita December 21, 2011 at 2:07 am

hey the pants are cool on pixie hollow and yeah you can’t wear clothes for boys on a fairy but ok!
but plz tell me someone a pixie hollow membership code because I need it!!!

Margarita January 11, 2012 at 4:41 pm

plz I really want a pixie hollow membership card code because I don’t live in the America 🙁

MisterZwee January 28, 2012 at 10:37 am

Hi, um, you DO realize that it also has to do with data and the programming right? The SparrowMan avatar has a different body shape than the Fairy avatar The clothes don’t match, like literally, it’s digitally impossible. And like several people already said, they DO sell pants for Fairies.
You know what REALLY sucks though? The fact that I have to hide to play Pixie Hollow because I’m a 15 year old guy.

MisterZwee January 28, 2012 at 10:43 am

I’m also a brony by the way. Love and tolerate.

Mr.Zwee January 28, 2012 at 10:51 am

Oh! Check out my website at: http://daisybloombooks.blogspot.com/
It has information on Pixie Hollow’s science and culture (in-game)

Mr.Zwee January 28, 2012 at 10:59 am

I would also like to say a few words concerning kids and sexism:

I was born in Mexico, which has one of the most sexists cultures, and I happened to gravitate towards “girl stuff”. Although my parents did send me to therapy to see if I had homosexual tendencies, they were pretty open minded and accepted the fact that I liked the Little Mermaid and Barbies. At school I always had friends that accepted me for who I was, but I was also quite bullied. One memorable incident was that after going to see a Barbie movie at the movie theater, I took a picture with a real-life Barbie, and took that picture with me to school for Show-and-Tell; now there was this boy, Santiago, he was my main bully, he took the picture, and ripped it. Of course, I reacted like any 4-year-old would: I cried. Since then I learned to keep my interests to myself.

Leila Monaghan February 4, 2012 at 6:17 pm

Mr. Zwee, I salute you for swimming against the currents. It can be hard work but you get to see things that those around you all swimming in a pack will never see.

And despite pants being a small issue, grains of sand add up to mountains of misconceptions that need to be challenged.

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